After Biden administration releases 1st Guantanamo prisoner, remaining detainees hope for swift action

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(GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba) — Following the transfer of the first Guantánamo Bay inmate of the Biden administration this week, remaining detainees at the offshore prison are hoping that a change in policy from the Trump years will bode well for their release, according to testimony obtained by ABC News.

Moroccan national Abdul Latif Nasser, 56, was released into the custody of his home country and reunited with his family on Monday after being held without charge for 19 years at the Guantánamo Bay detention center, on a U.S. naval base in Cuba. The U.S. Department of State authorized Nasser’s transfer five years after he was initially cleared for release during the Obama administration.

“The United States is grateful to the government of Morocco for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility,” a State Department spokesperson told ABC News on Tuesday. “The Biden Administration remains dedicated to a deliberate and thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing of the Guantánamo facility.”

Nasser’s departure made him the first inmate to be transferred from the facility since 2016, and leaves the number of remaining detainees at 39. In testimony shared exclusively with ABC News by U.K.-based legal charity Reprieve, which represents several Guantánamo detainees, those still inside the camp expressed hope in their prospects of freedom under President Joe Biden, after a Trump-era policy of refusing to release more detainees. They appealed to the 46th commander in chief to ensure their release.

Of the remaining Guantánamo detainees, 10 have been cleared for release, 10 are part of the military commissions process and two have been convicted, a senior administration official told a press briefing on Monday. The rest are eligible for review, and several of those inmates spoke about their hopes for release in the testimony shared by Reprieve.

Khalid Qassim, a 44-year-old Yemeni citizen, was denied recommendation for transfer out of Guantánamo Bay by the interagency Periodic Review Board last year, due to “his continued refusal to answer questions regarding pre-detention activities,” which the board said includes “involvement” in “basic and advanced training” from al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Qassim’s lawyers argue he was captured for a bounty and that his capture and detention is a case of mistaken identity due to false confessions under torture.

“I saw the national anthem and Biden speaking,” Qassim said in a conversation with his lawyer in January, two days after Biden’s inauguration, shared with ABC News. “You know, it used to almost be exciting when you saw Trump speak. Every time it was something new. What he said, he would say crazy things, how he loves dictators, things like this. It’s good to not hear some crazy talk.”

“Now it’s the attorneys’ work,” he added, “and the work of people like Kamala Harris or Nancy Pelosi to make sure we go home.”

In an op-ed published by The Guardian in 2017, Qassim wrote: “I have never been charged with a crime and I have never been allowed to prove my innocence. Yet I am still here.”

Ahmed Rabbani, a 51-year-old Pakistani citizen born in Saudi Arabia, is also being held in indefinite detention at Guantánamo Bay. He has not been recommended for transfer or charged with a crime but has been detained since 2004. He was named in the historic 2014 Senate Select Committee Report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention program as having been subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which he has described as “torture, pure and simple.”

“I would tell [Biden] I want to touch my child,” Rabbani said in a conversation in January, shared with ABC News. “I would tell him that I would like to die in the laps of my children. I do not want to go in a coffin or a body bag. I want justice. I have been held for political reasons, and I have nothing to do with the political reasons.”

Afghan national Asadullah Haroon Gul, 39, has been been detained at Guantánamo Bay without trial since 2007. He was captured by Afghan forces while serving as a commander of the now-former Hezb-i-Islami militia, known as HIG, which once fought alongside al-Qaida and the Taliban against the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. The U.S. government detained Gul on the claim that he had regular contact with senior leadership within the al-Qaida and Taliban ranks and may have useful information regarding ongoing operations. But Gul’s lawyers argue that his war ended in 2016, when the HIG struck a peace deal with the Afghan government.

“I think Biden is serious about a lot of things,” Gul said in a conversation in June, shared with ABC News. “If we talk about justice I do not see any reason why I should not be released from here.”

Reprieve and other advocacy groups, such as the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Center for Victims of Torture, welcomed Nasser’s release but said that further action to speed up the closure of Guantánamo Bay is needed.

“Abdul Latif Nasser’s release shows how easy this process can be when there is political will, and that it can be done safely,” Reprieve’s deputy director, Katie Taylor, told ABC News on Wednesday. “We’re taking the Biden administration at their word. They say they want to close Guantánamo and the first step is to transfer the remaining men who have been cleared for release, followed by others who have never been charged with a crime.”

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